Audio is the most important thing to get right no matter what kind of multimedia content you are producing. If you’re doing a live show with a camera pointed at you, a pre-recorded audio podcast, or even machinima, poor audio is the one thing your audience will have a hard time forgiving. Even if your visual content is outstanding and your bumper music flawless, the majority of your audience will appreciate and positively respond to quality audio.

No matter what operating system you use, your sound is directly impacted by your hardware and software choices. Analog audio running through a PC’s integrated audio card microphone jack has so much going against it that it’s almost impossible to get broadcast-quality results. An audio card is faced with static caused by traffic going through the board and various buses, pops and cracks from slight jack movements during recording and more. The absolute best first step towards making a positive difference in your audio is getting off analog connections and using digital hardware.

USB 2.0 and firewire both work very well with digital audio interfaces. Some of them can be very complex, which is one of my next topics, but today we’re going to cover two setups that require a minimum investment with great results.

Below are two audio setups that I have put together and used on a personal level. These rigs are designed to work both on Mac and PC.

1. Economy Basic – $25
This setup is intended for a broadcaster on a tight budget. While your results may not impress a professional sound engineer, they will get the job done and keep your program on budget. As an example, I’d recommend this setup to a high school or college student doing commentary over a game of Call of Duty for posting on YouTube.

The Logitech 350 is a solid and clear option for anyone wanting to achieve good audio without dropping a lot of cash. Because the mic is so close to your mouth, it’s important to remember to keep it out of your line of breath. In other words, if you put your finger against the mic and breathe out through both your mouth and nose, you shouldn’t feel it. If you do, move it away slightly to avoid having puffing noises on your recording.

Audacity is a free quick-and-dirty audio recording software that lets you do some noise cancellation and compression on your audio to make it have more of that radio broadcaster sound. It’s important to give 10 seconds of silent recording with the mic on before you start speaking to allow the noise cancellation to work properly. Remember, audacity is only going to be a benefit to you in post-production.

2. Economy Premium – $65
This package gives you a great clear sound without the need to wear a USB headset. It’s a bit pricier than the basic, though the addition of a condensor mic allows you to have a more powerful vocal presence in your recordings. Below are two options of USB condensor microphones, each with its own pros and cons.

If you’re not a fan of the Snowball design, as they can be quite bulky, Samson makes a very good USB condensor microphone called the “C01u” and a higher level version named “C03u“. Their microphones are solid and very clear, though their level of support doesn’t quite have as stellar a reputation as Blue in terms of keeping their drivers and software up to date on various operating systems.

I’m a big fan of this setup, and have used it myself (with the Samson option) for several years to do web-based radio. Not having to have a tiny microphone in front of my mouth has also been a benefit when I need to clear my throat. I recommend strongly getting a pop filter if you’re not comfortable talking to the microphones from a 45 degree angle and keeping it slightly to the side.

Having good audio can be the difference between a dead audience and a growing one.